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Twitter Crackdown on Hate Speech Finally Includes Misgendering and Deadnaming

Culture

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Twitter’s latest Hateful Conduct policy has gotten a significant makeover, including the express prohibition of misgendering or “deadnaming” trans* individuals.

Twitter users have long decried the platform’s ineffectual means of handling abuse, hate speech, and other factors that have contributed to disintegrating discourse. But in its latest overhaul of its hateful conduct policy, the company seems to have finally gotten the message about how their inaction has decayed discourse on the platform…and as a result has acted on behalf of its most vulnerable users.

Among the most prominent changes to its Hateful Conduct policy is the explicit prohibition of misgendering or “deadnaming” (using the former name of) trans* individuals. PinkNews explains the danger of these practices by saying, “These offensive techniques—which involve using the wrong gender to refer to a trans person or a trans person’s old name—are often used on Twitter to insult and erase trans people’s identities and right to exist.”

This now-explicit rule (Twitter claims these practices were previously a violation of their policies) is part of a larger section banning “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.” Such behavior went unaddressed in the platform’s previous Hateful Conduct policy.

Whereas the prior edition of the policy seemed to treat all forms of hateful conduct and speech as equal, this latest edition makes the distinct step of acknowledging some users are more likely to experience hate and harassment:

We recognise that if people experience abuse on Twitter, it can jeopardize their ability to express themselves. Research has shown that some groups of people are disproportionately targeted with abuse online. This includes; women, people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual individuals, marginalized and historically underrepresented communities. For those who identity with multiple underrepresented groups, abuse may be more common, more severe in nature and have a higher impact on those targeted.

The latest edition of the policy also leads with language expressly condemning hate against other users “on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” It also explicitly names other actions that previously fell through the cracks of Twitter’s safety enforcement including “media that depicts victims of the Holocaust,” “media that depicts lynching,” and “images depicting others as less than human, or altered to include hateful symbols, e.g. altering images of individuals to include animalistic features.”

This more nuanced understanding of the nature of, and motivation for, hateful conduct is new for Twitter, and demonstrates a kind of learning on the part of the platform’s leadership. And indeed, much of the feedback about the new policy recognizes the shift—while also acknowledging that such a change was considerably overdue.

With that said, how these rules will be enforced is still unclear. In the case of deadnaming or misgendering, The Verge’s Adi Robertson notes, “the rule could theoretically refer to mentioning well-known pre-transition names of celebrities (like Caitlyn Jenner) without clear malice. Or Twitter could reserve it for users who maliciously publicize old names in a way that’s designed to hurt specific trans users, which seems to be the intent of the policy.” In time, we’ll see how having these new and nuanced rules on the books affects action (and reactions) on the platform, and what it does to help improve the “health” of the platform that CEO Jack Dorsey and his colleagues have repeatedly claimed to be prioritizing for Twitter’s future.




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